Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bargains with no bargaining at open air market in San Salvatore

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Open air markets are everywhere in Italy. Even our tiny community has one that runs Wednesday from about 9 a.m. to noon, although it only has about six vendors. Usually when we pass, we are on our way to catch a train, but today we ride by on our way back from our once-a-week language class at the home of Marco, a retired public school teacher. We discovered Marco when I asked Matteo, a local shopkeeper, if he knew anyone local who gave private lessons. He didn’t know anyone, but one of the customers standing nearby did, and we have been meeting with Marco once or twice a week for the last three weeks.

The parking lot where the San Salvatore market is held has been special to me ever since I discovered that it is the site of my grandfather’s family house. The home has since been torn down, but fortunately cousin Rolando visited Italy in 1969, and he snapped some photos just a year before it was demolished. Lucy is looking now at pots and pans in the casalinga stall, and I note that she could be standing in the very spot where great-grandmother Maria Marchi might have been cooking 110 years ago. Of course, she could also be standing in the toilet, too, though the house most likely would not have had indoor plumbing then.

Market vendors in Italy are licensed and regulated, but they keep all their supplies in large vans and move around to different piazzas. The shops are often run by a husband and wife, and because of their low overhead, they usually offer better prices than the stores. For example, Lucy bought a herb chopper in a beautiful store in Lucca for 22 euros. Then she found a cheaper one in a crowded little side store for 9 euros. She bought it and will take the expensive one back. Here at the market, she sees a similar chopper for 6 euros.  We have been in need of some bigger pans than those provided by the agriturismo, so we choose a pan and a lid, and then we also choose a nice cutting board and a juicer. Our first language teacher here, Laura, taught us that at least in northern and central Italy, price haggling in stores is not done. We would make a brutta figura if we tried to bargain in a store. Markets already offer low prices in the first place, so Laura doesn’t ask for a discount—though she may when she buys more than one item.  Well, we are buying four items, and the bill is about 50 euros, but we are happy with what we have and don’t try to bargain. The shop owners, though, hand us a bin with a wide assortment of cutting knives and tell us to pick one out. The knives are not in their packages, but they look to be of good quality and are either new or nearly new.

Then we move on to the fruit and vegetable stand, where we watch two women each order three or four bags full of fruit. They talk with the vendor a bit about food and cooking, but we don’t see any haggling over the prices. We ask for potatoes, beans, blood oranges and mandarins. Each time the vendor puts them on the scale and tells us the price, and then he puts something extra in, either more of the item we ordered or something else, so we also come back with a carrot and some celery and parsley which he has thrown in, he says, “per sugo,” for sauce.

Lucy tells me at home while she is squeezing juice out of the oranges that the prices and quality are excellent. “I wish we had known about this market earlier,” she says. The fresh juice is sweet, tangy, delicious.  Although some people love the gamesmanship of bargaining, we prefer the cordiality of this local marketplace where instead of having to argue, we are given smiles, courtesy and free samples without asking.

The Spadoni house as it appeared in 1969, when it no longer was
occupied by Spadonis. Note building on the right, which is still standing
and is visible in the picture above of the open air market.
(photo courtesy of Roland Spadoni)

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